The Taste by Vir Sanghvi: Lessons I have gathered on my travels to ensure a good stay at a hotel

After decades of travelling, here are the lessons I have gathered to ensure a good stay at a hotel. But often, it just comes down to luck.

I keep being asked what secrets there are to ensure a good stay at a hotel. Sadly, I have no special wisdom to impart on this subject.

The days when I was willing to stay in an inexpensive hotel and spend the day outdoors exploring the destination are over. I must have a comfortable hotel room to come back to. (Pexels (Representative Image) )

After decades of travelling, my broad conclusions are that you will occasionally find a good hotel that costs less than others in its category and is outstanding value. But this does not happen as often as we would like.

The general principle is simple enough: You get what you pay for. And all too often even if you pay a lot you end up with a terrible experience.

But, of course, not everybody is looking for the same things in a hotel. Often our requirements change as we grow older or more prosperous. In my own case, the days when I was willing to stay in an inexpensive hotel and spend the day outdoors exploring the destination are over. I still like exploring the destination but I must have a comfortable hotel room to come back to.

Here are the lessons I have gathered on my travels.


There is a hotel axiom attributed to a member of the Hilton family in the days when they owned and ran the Hilton hotels. What matters most when building a hotel, the saying goes, is location, location and location.

By and large, the axiom holds true even today. If you are going on a work trip, try and find a hotel that is near enough to the places you will have to visit. You do not want to have to fight traffic for an hour before you reach what could be an important meeting. If you have breaks between meetings, you may want to go to your hotel to freshen up. You can’t do that if your hotel is far away.

In resort hotels, location is even more important. If you are at a “seaside resort” and can’t even see the sea unless you use binoculars or crane your neck, then you have wasted your money. At all resorts, the inside of your room is, of course, important. But what’s more important is what you can see if you look out of your window or when you wander outside.

If a hotel says something like “only a ten-minute walk from the beach”, find somewhere else to stay.

The Room

The hotel room shouldn’t matter so much but as you grow older, it does. First of all, your room shouldn’t be the size of a shoe box. The bathroom is often crucial to the comfort of your stay. Ideally there should be a bath and a shower stall. Two sinks are always better than one.

In the bedroom there should always be a seating area and a small table where you can have tea, coffee or a snack. There must be a kettle and an easy-to-use coffee machine. There must also be enough cupboard space and the in-room safe should be placed at a decent level so that you do not need to contort yourself to operate it.

Always check the room size when you book. You will be surprised by the number of hotels with perfectly comfortable, good-sized rooms that will nevertheless try and put you into their tiniest rooms if they can get away with it. The larger rooms will go to regular guests, to people with company accounts and to premium members of loyalty programmes. They won’t pay more than you; they will just get better deals.

The Food

Does the food at your hotel matter? Yes and no. It all depends where you are staying.

We went to Naples and Capri on holiday last month. At Naples we stayed at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, the Grande Dame of the city. But the only meal we had there was the buffet breakfast which was included in the room rate. We ate all our meals at restaurants outside the hotel and ate better (and for less money) than we would have if we had eaten in the hotel.

On the other hand, in Capri, we ate every meal in our hotel, the Jumeirah Capri Palace, or at the restaurants the hotel runs some distance away on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Most resort hotels want to offer their guests a choice of dining options and take trouble to get the food right. From a guest’s perspective, you usually have four choices at a resort town. You can eat at your hotel. You can go for a meal at another hotel; you can find the one or two really good restaurants in the town; or you can get conned into eating at the hundreds of tourist traps that each resort town offers. Needless to say, most people get fooled into going to the tourist traps.

It isn’t easy to find the few good standalone restaurants in the town because you have to research the food scene to find them (never rely on the concierge in a resort) and often the good places will be full or booked out.

This applies to Indian resorts too. There are a few groups that pride themselves on the quality of the food at their Goa hotels (ITC, the Taj and that’s about it) so you are better off doing a little research and going to the many independent restaurants that have sprung up. But Goa is also packed with tourist traps which will be recommended by taxi-drivers and hotel receptionists. Try not to go to any of them.


There was a time when Asian hotels excelled at service. No longer.

Last year, at the upmarket wing of the Singapore Shangri La, I checked in after a tiring flight and asked if they would iron the shirt I was going to wear for dinner. No, they said. It was Saturday and laundry did not work on Saturday or Sunday. Even in Bangkok, famous for its hospitality and service, the Peninsula refused to accept any pressing on Saturday/Sunday.

These are upscale Asian chains. Neither of them is cheap. So, what’s with the reluctance to provide basic services? Every other hotel in Bangkok provides a laundry service seven days a week.

Service levels in the West can be poor because staff strengths are low. If you order something from room service or want to give laundry, you may have to wait for more than 40 minutes for the knock on your door. We are lucky in India because we have best service in the world but elsewhere service standards can vary. Even getting a bellman to collect your luggage when you are checking out can take half an hour.

Some hotel chains pride themselves on the speed of service. It is very unusual to get bad service at a Mandarin Oriental or a Four Seasons Hotel. Isadore Sharp, who founded the Four Seasons, has written about how no guest should be left waiting for laundry to be returned in the morning before he or she leaves for a meeting.

Other hotel chains are too big to offer any standardisation of service. I stayed last month at the Grand Hyatt in Istanbul and service was perfect. But when I stayed, a few years ago, at the Churchill, a Hyatt Hotel in London, I felt that it was among the worst five-star hotels in London. Service was surly or non-existent and when I finally did manage to give some laundry, the person who brought it back would not hand it over till I paid her in cash. There was no question of putting it on the room bill.

London has some of the world’s most overpriced and badly run hotels so my experience at the Churchill was not unusual. The Intercontinental at Hyde Park Corner is pretty dire too. It charges the sterling equivalent of a lakh of rupees a day which should put it in the luxury league. But, in reality, the values and standards of an Ibis hotel on a Saudi Arabian highway are probably more refined.

And finally:

I know it sounds parochial but always try and look for Indian chains. The Oberoi in Marrakech is so stunning that I recommend it to everyone. The Taj Exotica on Dubai’s Palm is frankly not very convenient if you have work in the city centre. But I stay there anyway because I like the hotel so much. And in London, 51 Buckingham Gate, run by the Taj, has become my home away from home.

With large global chains, it is harder to maintain quality standards. The worst hotel I have stayed at in Dubai is the Marriott Marquis. And yet many Marriott hotels can be very well run. I had the holiday of a lifetime at the Edition (a Marriott hotel) in Tokyo.

So, remember: There are no rules. Often it just comes down to luck.

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